Rail congestion is construed as the incapability of trains to move through hubs, causing standstill. There can be numerous factors for such congestions, such as construction, border closures, breakdowns, accidents or simply, in the case of the New Silk Road, growing traffic. Congestion predominantly affects the schedule of freight trains passing through the hubs, as a delay is added to their estimated time of arrival. In such a case, the customers awaiting their goods face troubling situations. Optimising the shipment time is one of the essential goals for most logistics companies conducting rail freight.
Rail congestion is a cause of concern for Poland since it is one of the first entry points for Westbound transport. Historically, Poland has always had a thriving network of rail routes developing since 1835. There are also many rail operators, largest being PKP Cargo, a state-owned corporation that is also the second-largest operator in the Europe Union. PKP runs more transports more than 50% of the total volume moving in Poland. Apart from that, there are numerous rail hubs in Poland, such as Małaszewicze, which is the first entry point via Belarus. Other hubs include Warsaw, Lodz, Gdansk, Sławków and Poznan. These are some of the leading causes because of which Poland is one of the significant players in Europe for the New Silk Road.
The trends from the last few years have always pointed bottleneck traffic between Małaszewicze and Brest, in Belarus. The cause of this is the sheer popularity of the route and the lack of competitive alternatives. Barring that, there are many procedural differences between customs office in these crossings, where many a time miscommunication ensued congestion. Moreover, there are concerns that the terminal is unable to keep up with the popularity of the route.
This year the Covid-19 pandemic brought more challenges for rail freight transport at the Polish border. As there was a depletion of movement via air and sea freight, rail became the dominant mode of cargo movement during the pandemic. This also became a significant cause for traffic while crossing the hub in Małaszewicze. At times, the waiting could range anything between five days to weeks. On the flip side, the situation faced Małaszewicze offers new opportunities for other routes and hubs to develop. Forwarders are now also interested in looking for alternative routes, such via Kaliningrad or Turkey. Emergence of the hub in Sławków, in Southern Poland, is one of the most recent and interesting developments that forwarders are now considering. However, these routes are still developing and are not as large as Małaszewicze.
Plenty of solutions have been offered to solve the obstacles faced at the Polish border and to promote the development of the hub in Małaszewicze. The rail infrastructure at Małaszewicze is being upgraded to support more trains and more volume passing through the region. Since this is the hub where the gauge change happens, there is also a need for faster transport system change and customs clearance. Małaszewicze is working on upgrading its management capabilities to meet the growing demands and the increase in traffic. Many suggest that at a policy level, there should be unity in regulations for freight transportation through cooperation and collaboration.
Authorities have initiated plans to develop by keenly investing in the growth of the terminal to prevent any bottleneck. In recent years, realising Poland’s strategic positioning and the potential to develop further, the European Union allocated 676 million Euros for the development of rail and road transport in Poland. With these funds, plans have begun to upgrade the infrastructure, and it is expected that by the end of 2022, Małaszewicze will be able to support four times the current volume! Though traffic might usually have negative connotations, for Poland, it brings a bag of opportunities thanks to its growing presence on the New Silk Road.